In Philo Bregstein’s film Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey Through His Times-restored, re-edited and finally after 20 years available again-you can follow Germany’s trip to the United States, Klemperer’s back to Hungary, and finally to London. Beautifully documented with many details and archive material. A unique film!

Klemperer The Last Concert shows exclusive film footage of the rehearsals and its “last” concert on september 26, 1971 in London, in a documentary that can be called the musical heritage of Klemperer on film.

Otto Klemperer’s
Long Journey
through his Times

A film by Philo Bregstein

In Philo Bregstein’s film Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey Through his Times – restored, re-edited and finally after 20 years available again – you can follow Klemperer from his trips to the United States and London and return to Hungary. Beautifully documented with many details and archive material. A unique film!

Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times is a biographical film about one of the most influential conductors of the 20th century, set against the background of the historical, cultural and political era of his lifetime. Otto Klemperer (1885–1973) grew up and had his first public successes in the days of the German Empire. His career flourished during the Weimar Republic while he also won huge acclaim in the Soviet Union. The Nazi regime in 1933 forced Klemperer into exile in the United States. After the War, he headed the Budapest State Opera for three years, and in 1954 settled in Zurich. There followed a long Indian Summer with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and regular guest appearances with Europe’s major orchestras. He gave his last concert in September 1971. Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey draws illuminating links between political and social developments and Klemperer’s own life and career, illustrating in passing to what extent the different political systems he encountered helped to foster or worked to thwart his art. The ffilm opens with a depiction of cultural life in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Bregstein focusses on Gustav Mahler’s impact on the young Klemperer, who would later often call Mahler his spiritus rector (“guiding spirit”). We then follow the expanding horizons of European music with the works of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. Klemperer, who knew both men personally, considered them the two peaks of twentieth-century music.

Klemperer’s life was that of the quintessentially assimilated German Jew. Like many other Jewish German artists, he played a pivotal role in the explosion of creativity during the Weimar Republic that was to revolutionise the performing arts of the 20th century, culminating for him in the creation in 1927 of the Kroll Opera in Berlin. At the Kroll Klemperer gathered around him a group of avant-garde producers and designers, foremost among them Ewald Dberg and Hans Curjel, and a cast of mainly young singer actors, such as Fritz Krenn and Moje Forbach, and created a totally new style of doing classical opera. Innovative designs, contemporary costumes and lifelike stage action led to legendary performances whose impact resonates on the stages of opera houses until today. But the “Experiment Kroll Opera” derived its main impetus from the many contemporary works by the major composers of the day of which Klemperer and his colleagues Alexander von Zemlinksy and Fritz Zweig gave the world premieres, amongst them Stravinsky, Hindemith, Schoenberg, Krének, Janáçek and Weill. With their growing presence the Nazi Party and other vociferous reactionary groups, however, began denouncing the Kroll Opera as a hotbed of “cultural Bolshevism”. Giving into this mounting right-wing pressure the authorities closed the Kroll in 1931.

Between 1924 and 1936 Klemperer conducted a total of twelve times in post-revolutionary Russia, where the success in Moscow and Leningrad of his concerts and opera performances propelled him into something of a cultural public hero. After one of his concerts in 1925, Trotsky famously came to see him in his dressing room. (Might there have been a “family connection” here? In 1922 Klemperer’s cousin, the internist Georg Klemperer, had been called to Moscow to diagnose Lenin and had then also been asked to examine the other members of the Soviet government.) When Hitler seized power in 1933 Klemperer, with other German artists and intellectuals, most of them Jewish, fled into exile. After a peripatetic six months of concerts in, among other places, Vienna, Florence, Riga and Budapest, he arrived in the USA where he became conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He failed to find recognition, however, in major musical centres such as New York, as the general audience’s taste for technical virtuosity and polished surfaces ran counter to his own aesthetics. Klemperer abhorred the way commercial criteria pervaded almost all aspects of American life. When, against all warnings, he programmed Mahler’s Second Symphony with the New York Philharmonic in December 1935, the concerts were a success with the critics but proved a financial disaster for the orchestra’s management. In 1939, brain surgery to remove a (benign) tumour left him partly paralysed on the right side of his face and body. It also made the bipolar disorder (then called manic depression) from which he had suffered since childhood flare up. His subsequent erratic behaviour and the social conflicts it produced brought his career to a complete standstill for a while. Through a rigorous scheme of self-discipline and physical training, he partly managed to overcome these challenges, but he remained practically without work for years. In 1946, Klemperer returned to Europe for his first concert tour after the War, and the following year finally found permanent engagement again as musical director of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Here he gradually regained his health and creative powers and succeeded in reviving Hungarian opera life which the War had laid waste.

Ever since his time at the Kroll, Klemperer would insist on being given large amounts of rehearsal time in pursuit of quality, an ideal that commercial pressures had for a long time put beyond his reach. At the Hungarian State Opera his demands were met unconditionally, resulting, here too, in legendary performances. Klemperer also made regular guest appearances in major European cities such as Vienna, Amsterdam and Cologne, which further helped to re-establish his reputation as a conductor of significance. However, for the way it intruded upon his artistic credo Klemperer inevitably began to clash with the communist state repression that descended on Hungarian life. At the instigation of Moscow, ballet performances began replacing opera, Klemperer was prevented from programming Schoenberg because his music did not respond to the ideology of Socialist Realism, and when he put on Mozart’s Don Giovanni he was officially attacked for staging a “feudal and immoral” work. Though facing a far from certain future, Klemperer abruptly left Budapest in July 1950. He returned to the United States where, ironically, he then encountered political repression of the American kind as he faced problems renewing his passport (Klemperer had become a US citizen in 1940): with the onset of the McCarthy era and the strong anti-communist sentiments it engineered, Klemperer fell under suspicion of harbouring communist sympathies in light of his Budapest years. Another period of near inactivity and economic hardship followed, compounded by a hip fracture that disabled him for many months. In 1954 Klemperer could finally again return to Europe where he regained his German citizenship and settled in Zurich. Now nearly 70 years of age and despite the many physical challenges that were his lot (in 1958 he was to suffer large 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns as he fell asleep smoking, preventing him to work for a whole year), Klemperer now entered a period of great musical creativity. He concentrated primarily on the major classical composers and, working with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London (in 1964 reconstituted as the New Philharmonia), embarked on a series of studio recordings, many of which count as benchmark performances of the classical repertoire until today. His many London concerts were lauded by the critics and greeted with storms of applause by the public. There were frequent guest appearances in Amsterdam, Cologne and Munich as well as a Beethoven cycle in 1960 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in Vienna. Where the culmination of his pre-War career had been his legendary reign at the Kroll in Berlin, the zenith of his post-War years undoubtedly was the long Indian summer in London, when he again found recognition as one of the few great conductors of his time. In 1919, Klemperer had converted to Catholicism, but in February 1967 returned to the Judaism of his childhood. He conducted four times in Israel and in 1970, following a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, accepted an Israeli passport as a token of his support of the young state. Klemperer died on 6 July 1973 and was buried four days later in the Jewish cemetery of Zurich-Friesenberg.

In 1971, in a surprising change of heart, Klemperer set aside his life.long aversion to being filmed and gave Bregstein and his camera crew full access to the rehearsals and recording sessions he was conducting in September of that year in London. From this footage Bregstein created the framework for Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times, which then unfolds in a series of flash backs. “I asked him to testify about his century,” Bregstein says. Throughout Long Journey we hear Klemperer’s own voice delivering much of the narrative, joined at several junctions by that of his daughter Lotte. Authenticity is further provided by the participation of several of Klemperer’s long-standing friends and close colleagues from the Weimar Republic years, foremost among them the philosopher Ernst Bloch, the composer Paul Dessau and the art historian and Kroll dramatist Hans Curjel. Composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, whom Klemperer held in high regard, speaks fascinatingly of the older man’s keen interest in the developments of contemporary music. These and many others Bregstein interviewed especially for his film. That all of them were able to give him direct ‘eye-witness’ accounts gives the definitive version of the film now appearing on DVD a unique historical value. The film is enriched by much, often rare, archive material from the 1930’s through 50’s, among them tantalizing bits of Walter Felsenstein’s 1949 production of Bizet’s Carmen at the Komische Oper in Berlin which Klemperer conducted. A rehearsal clip with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1960 in Vienna finds Klemperer reacting angrily when a string player ignores his carefully marked bowings, while a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, filmed in 1964 by the BBC in a sold.out Royal Albert Hall, shows him at the height of his powers at almost 80 years old. Similarly, still photos collected from all around the globe eloquently illustrate Klemperer’s life and career, throwing an especially fascinating light on his work at the Kroll Opera. To all this Bregstein adds a copious selection of historical film, photo and sound material that impressively succeeds in evoking the political and cultural climates reigning in Europe and America at the time. Thus, Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times offers the viewer much more than a chronological summary of events in Klemperer’s life or a statement about his legacy as a musician. Rather, Bregstein invites us to join and experience ourselves the long journey Klemperer made through his times in an impressionistic manner that proves all the more effective for the trenchant way it weaves together imagery with speech and music. Finally, nowhere in his film does Bregstein himself offer critical or explanatory comments on the historical events he portrays, thus allowing us viewers to form our own opinion and draw our own conclusions.

Dick Bruggeman

In the spring of 1971 I met the then 86-year old conductor Otto Klemperer in Zurich for a number of taped conversations. These were to form the basis for a film I intended to make about his life, called Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times. I had been given exclusive permission for such a film after Klemperer had watched a documentary I had made earlier: The Past that Lives, a Dutch television portrait, first shown in 1970, on the historian Jacques Presser, which tells the story of his life and at the same time the history of the destruction of the Dutch Jews by the Nazis between 1940 and 1945.

I understood that Klemperer liked my approach and would accept that I make a similar film about him. A film maker and author of biographical portraits, in this case of the conductor Otto Klemperer, it has never been my ambition to create a biography or a music-historical documentary. The thematic of Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times extends beyond the portrait of a great conductor. With this film, I sought to evoke the musical, cultural and political history of the twentieth century through the story of an exceptional musician who lived and worked at the centre of the events of that history. Moreover, I wanted to tell the symbolic story of human creativity and its power, which surmounts the most severe obstacles. I gave the film an impressionistic style and aimed to prompt the viewer/listener to “relive” the high as well as the low points of the life and times of Otto Klemperer. Clear is that I never envisaged it as a detailed historical biography. For that we have the eminent two-volume biography of Peter Heyworth. As in all of my films, I set out by first making strict formal choices.

In Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times I opted for editing the soundtrack with complete off-camera commentaries first, on which I then edited archival photo and film materials, with interludes of Klemperer conducting, afterwards – a rather experimental method in film making, even today, which I had explored before in my film The Past that Lives. I also decided that, in order to ensure unity in the musical excerpts for the soundtrack, I would include only Klemperer recordings: Klemperer has a highly specific style of interpretation, even if not all viewers/listeners will always be able to identify whether what they’re hearing is a Klemperer performance or not. That also explains why, when no recording by Klemperer exists of the composition mentioned, you may hear an excerpt from another work by the same composer from a Klemperer performance that is available. In these cases, the music often serves as a bridge to, and fuses with the images or footage of the continuing narrative. Information about the orchestras Klemperer conducts is given only in the credits. More complete information about commentators and interviewees, as well as the musical works and the various orchestras Klemperer conducts, can be found later in this book. I did not want to overload the images with written text, which would have weakened the power of the film. My decision to re-edit Long Journey derives principally from the editing shortcomings I knew the film contained when it first came out.

When Klemperer died in July 1973 my producer, eager to have it broadcast as soon as possible, pressured me to immediately deliver the as yet unfinished film to the laboratory. I knew myself that I had to restart working seriously on the editing because of fierce disagreements with my first editor about the, in many ways, experimental approach of the film. When my friend and mentor in film editing, the Italian filmmaker Silvano Agosti, re-edited and much improved the film in 1984, the technical possibilities available were still limited. Agosti, one of Italy’s foremost film editors, re-equilibrated the film as much as possible with a number of ingenious solutions to compensate for the fact that the negative of the film had already been cut. Since then the film found worldwide recognition starting with the world premiere at the Internationales Forum des jungen Films in Berlin in 1985. But I always knew: “etwas fehlt”, something remained unaccomplished, because the errors of the first editing could not be repaired completely. Two years ago, after they had been hibernating for more than 25 years in the vaults of production companies, I finally had the chance to bring my Klemperer documentaries back to life. Finally, I could make the definitive version of Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times that I had always dreamed of.

Only thanks to today’s novel digital technology and the skills of my young Dutch editor, Pjotr ’s-Gravesande, have I been able to eliminate all of the film’s remaining shortcomings and to restore the often rather imperfect sound. We mainly took out superfluous images and introduced more liberal pauses, so the film is largely identical with the 1984 version, but now enjoys the natural flow that had escaped me earlier. What I have not touched is my original editing concept. I had given much careful thought at the time to the basic form I wanted to guide me as I set out constructing and editing the film, and I wanted that to remain intact. Whatever imperfections there may be, you don’t “remake” part of an already existing painting or musical composition. I felt I might run the risk of destroying a work of art. My friend Agosti did such an outstanding job when he edited the 1984 version that I never thought of even wanting to retouch that. I am very happy to have been able to finalize the film and give it its definitive form, and I wish for Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times to embark on a new “long journey” throughout the world.

Philo Bregstein, August 2016


Thanks for their financial support to: STICHTING GRENSGEBIED, AMSTERDAM




Rehearsals, London, 1971:
Ludwig van Beethoven – King Stephen Overture Johannes Brahms – Symphony No. 3
Joseph Haydn – Symphony No. 92 (Oxford) Gustav Mahler – Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Serenade K 375

London 1964:
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 9

Rehearsal, Vienna 1960:
Ludwig van Beethoven – Egmont Overture

Amsterdam, 1955:
Arnold Schoenberg – Verklärte Nacht

Jacques Offenbach – Overture to La Belle Hélène Richard Strauss – Salomé “Dance of the Seven Veils“ Kurt Weill – Kleine Dreigroschenmusik


Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass in B minor, St Matthew Passion
Ludwig van Beethoven – Fidelio Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 6 Paul Hindemith – Nobilissima Visione Otto Klemperer – String Quartet No. 7
Gustav Mahler – Symphonies Nos 2 and 9
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Così fan Tutte, Don Giovanni, Masonic Funeral Music
Igor Stravinsky – Symphony in Three Movements
Richard Wagner – Der Fliegende Holländer


Sándor Baracs (1900–2002)
Born in Budapest, emigrated to Holland in 1927; during the Nazi occupation active in the resistance, foreign editor with the resistance newspaper Trouw; then became a lawyer; after the war went back to Budapest where he assisted at concerts and opera performances at the Budapest opera under Klemperer; following the Soviet repression of the 1956 uprising, left Hungary again for Amsterdam.

Franz Beidler (1901–1981)
German-Swiss author, Wagner’s ‘first grandchild’ but banned from Bayreuth by Cosima Wagner; during the Weimar Republic worked with Leo Kestenberg at the Prussian Ministry of Science, Culture and Education; between 1943 and 1972 general secretary of the Swiss Society of Authors; main work: Cosima Wagner-Liszt, Der Weg zum Wagner-Mythos.

Ernst Bloch (1885–1977)
One of Klemperer’s few close friends; ranks as one of the most idiosyncratic Marxist thinkers of his time; 1933–1948 in US exile, returned to become professor of philosophy in Leipzig; his move in 1961 to West Germany and a professorship at Tübingen University enabled regular contact between the two.

Tamás Blum (1927–1992)
Hungarian conductor and translator; 1945–1951 at the Budapest State Opera, where he worked as Klemperer’s assistant; between 1953 and 1958 music director at the Debre en Opera House; 1959 re-appointed at Budapest Opera, moved to Zurich in 1966, in 1977 director of the International Opera Studio there.

Pierre Boulez (1925–2016)
Composer and conductor, possibly the single most dominant figure in the post-war musical scene; first heard Klemperer conduct in 1952 in Montreal (‘an indelible impression’); as of the mid–1960s Klemperer took a great interest in Boulez’s work and career and regularly attended his rehearsals and performances.

Harold Byrnes (Bernstein) (1903–1977)
German-American conductor and orchestrator, a close friend of Klemperer’s since his Berlin years; studied at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin with Erich Kleiber and Leo Blech; 1936 moved to Los Angeles where he founded the Los Angeles Chamber Symphony, regularly performance works by Schoenberg; after the war returned to Berlin, in 1971 conducted Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron at the German Opera; for Klemperer’s 1947 Copenhagen concert arranged a suite from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen.

Raymond Clark
Principal cellist of the Philharmonia Orchestra from its inception; largely self-taught, Clark had risen from plain roots to the top of his profession and was a firm favourite of Klemperer’s.

Hans Curjel (1896–1974)
German conductor and dramatist; studied violin and conducting at the Karlsruhe Conservatory; 1924-25 conductor at the Dusseldorf Theatre, 1925-27 deputy director of the Baden Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. He then joined Klemperer at the Kroll Opera in Berlin as main dramaturg and deputy director (1927–1931), decisively helping determine its avant-garde direction; after the Kroll’s closure guest director at the State Opera. Emigrated to Switzerland in 1933. His monumental Experiment Kroll Oper 1927–1931 appeared posthumously in 1975, edited by Eigel Kruttge.

Paul Dessau (1894–1979)
Like Bloch, one of Klemperer’s few close friends; chorus master and conductor under Klemperer in Cologne (1919–1923); a prolific composer often collaborating with Brecht, Dessau after the war settled and remained in East Germany; they corresponded regularly and as of the mid–1960s till Klemperer’s death met on various occasions.

Herbert Downes (1909–2004)
Principal violist of the Philharmonia from 1945 till 1974; also prolific chamber music player.

Georg Eisler (1928–1998)
Son of the composer Hanns Eisler, Georg Eisler was a renowned Austrian painter and graphics artist; designed the sets and costumes for Klemperer’s 1961 Magic Flute production at Covent Garden.

Walter Felsenstein (1901–1975)
Iconic theatre and opera director, between 1932 and 1936 at Cologne and Frankfurt; in 1947 created the Komische Oper in East Berlin, inviting Klemperer to conduct his epoch-making production of Bizet’s Carmen there.

Moje Forbach (1898–1993)
German opera singer/actress, 1928–1931 engaged by Klemperer at the Kroll where she premiered Schoenberg’s Erwartung and delivered a Senta of ‘heroic possession’ in his legendary Fliegende Holländer production. Forbach thereafter enjoyed a long and successful career as a stage and film actress.

George Harewood (1923–2011)
A music enthusiast, Lord Harewood devoted most of his career to opera and held various posts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1951–1972), where he invited Klemperer to conduct (and direct) Fidelio (1961 and 1969), Zauberflöte (1962, 1963) and Lohengrin (1963).

Peter Heyworth (1921–1991)
American-born British music critic and journalist, author of the authoritative 2-volume biography Otto Klemperer. His Life and Times and editor of Conversations with Klemperer

Max Hofmüller (1881–1981)
Singer and opera director, member of the Strasbourg Opera under Klemperer (1914–1917), from 1918 senior director in Munich; staged Klemperer’s Ring cycle at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1931); concentrated after the war on teaching.

Fred Husler (1889–1969)
Voice pedagogue at the Kroll (1927–1931) with Moje Forbach, Jarmilla Novotna, Iso Golland and Charles Kullman among the many singers he coached.

Walter Jellinek
Assistant recording producer under Walter Legge present at most of Klemperer’s recording session for EMI until the early 1960’s.

Lotte Klemperer (1923–2003)
Klemperer’s daughter; with the death in 1956 of her mother Johanna (née Geisler) she became the guardian of his personal life, the manager of his professional career and, after his death, the custodian of his legacy. She once literally saved Klemperer’s life when on 30 September 1958 he fell asleep in bed smoking his pipe. In 1983 she published Die Personalakten der Johanna Geisler (‘The Personal Documents of Johanna Geisler’), a moving portrait she unearthed from the archives of her mother’s early life and stage career.

Werner Klemperer (1920–2000)
Klemperer’s son; remaining in the US after the war, he enjoyed a long career as stage, film, and television actor and musician; he famously created the role of Colonel Wilhelm Klink in the TV sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, set in a German POW camp during World War Two. He later also appeared in Broadway musicals and in opera, for example as Bassa Selim in Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail (18 times at the Met) and, to great acclaim, as Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus (Seattle Opera 1981).

Eigel Kruttge (1899–1979)
Was Klemperer’s assistant in Cologne, then dramaturge at the Kroll, later harpsichordist; from 1952 until 1966 as radio producer at the WDR in Cologne facilitated Klemperer’s concerts with the WDR Radio Orchestra and was thus instrumental in the return of his German passport. After the death of Hans Curjel, prepared his monumental Experiment Krolloper for publication in 1975.

F.W. Kuphal, Jr. (1880–1975)
Violinist and personal assistant to William A. Clark, when he created the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1919; the orchestra’s librarian until 1960. The footage he shot in the 1930s (with an 8-mm camera from his desk in the orchestra) of Klemperer conducting the orchestra he allowed us to use for free in the film.

Gareth Morris (1920–2007)
Founding member in 1945 of Walter Legge’s Philharmonia Orchestra and its principal flutist from 1948. In 1964 Morris played a crucial role in helping establish the New Philharmonia Orchestra and was its chairman until 1972. ‘No British musician came closer to Klemperer’ (Heyworth).

Hans Reichenfeld (1914 –1983)
Authoritative Dutch music critic for Handelsblad/NRC (1959–1982), exceptional for the combi- nation in his writings of erudition, non-conformist enthusiasm and deep musical understanding; highlighted the ‘piercing truthfulness’ of Klemperer’s interpretations and the total unity of a work’s structure and dramatic development which ‘his vision etched in the listener’s mind.’

Gottfried Reinhardt (1911–1994)
Austrian-American film director and producer, son of Max Reinhardt; moved to Hollywood in 1932 where he worked with Ernst Lubitsch; in 1941, produced Two-Faced Woman, Greta Garbo’s final film role.

Natalia Saz (1903–1993)
As director of the Moscow Theatre for Children commissioned Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf; in 1931 Klemperer invited her to stage Falstaff at the Kroll Opera and Nozze di Figaro later that year at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. In August 1937, during Stalin’s purges, her husband was arrested and executed, Saz herself imprisoned until 1942, rehabilitated in 1953. Klemperer kept up a regular correspondence with her and at the time of his Berlin Philharmonic concerts in May 1966 visited her in East-Berlin.

Karl Ulrich Schnabel (1909–2001)
Son of Artur Schnabel, was a concert pianist in his own right and an internationally celebrated piano teacher.

Zoltán Simon (1920–1991)
Hungarian composer and conductor, closely associated with Klemperer during his Budapest years; in 1954 appointed pedagogue, then musical director of the Budapest National Theatre.

Max Strub (1900–1966)
German violinist and chamber musician; in 1918 played Brahms’s violin concerto under Klemperer who in 1927 engaged him as leader of the Staatskapelle Berlin.

H.H. Stuckenschmidt (1901–1988)
German composer, musicologist and freelance music writer and critic, closely connected throughout his career with the avant-garde; in 1945 director of ‘new music’ at the RIAS in Berlin, later professor at the Music Department of Berlin’s Technical University and music critic for the influential Tagesspiegel; also taught at Darmstadt. Wrote critical biographies of, i.a., Arnold Schoenberg, Boris Blacher, Feruccio Busoni and Maurice Ravel.

Heinz Tietjen (1881–1967)
German opera conductor and producer, since 1925 director of the German Opera Berlin, 1926 of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden and the Kroll Opera (1927–1931), between 1927 and 1944 general director of all Prussian state theatres; 1931–1944 conductor and producer at the Bayreuth Festival, in close relation with Winifred Wagner. After the war re-appointed as general director of the German Opera Berlin (1948–1954), then musical director of the Hamburg State Opera.

Peter Weiser (1920–2012)
From 1951 till 1955, worked with Ingeborg Bachmann for the American Occupation radio station in Vienna, as of 1955 chief dramatist with Austrian Radio; between 1961 and 1977 general secretary of the Vienna Konzerthaus Society.

Fritz Zweig (1893–1984)
Studied with Arnold Schoenberg; from 1913 chorus master and conductor at various German opera houses, until 1927 when Klemperer engaged him at the Kroll Opera; fled to France in 1933, from there to the USA in 1939, enjoying a successful conducting career there.


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Photographs of the DEACONESS HOSPITAL BOSTON and Dr. Gilbert Horrax’s article about Neurosurgery kindly made available by THE RUTH AND DAVID FREIMAN ARCHIVES at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, USA

The Drawings of Otto Klemperer at rehearsal in Berlin, 1931 are by RICHARD ZIEGLER


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Otto Klemperer The Last Concert

A film by Philo Bregstein

Klemperer The Last Concert shows exclusive film footage of the rehearsals and its “last” concert on september 26, 1971 in London, in a documentary that can be called the musical heritage of Klemperer on film. Philo Bregstein has re-edited his movie Otto Klemperer in rehearsal and concert in 2015 and additionally supplemented and enriched it with new recordings, including interviews with people who collaborated with this world-famous conductor. The result is the movie Klemperer The Last Concert.

When in 1971 Otto Klemperer gave me the permission to make a biographical film about his life he also allowed me to film rehearsals and recording sessions in London, a permission the conductor had never extended to anyone before. Thus, in the autumn of 1971, my small film crew and I joined Klemperer and the New Philharmonia Orchestra in their recording sessions at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in London as well as the three rehearsals to what would turn out to be Klemperer’s last concert, on September 26, 1971 in the Royal Festival Hall. My initial idea had been to have these film sessions serve as the musical frame for the narrative of the film I was going to make about his life. But the opportunity proved so unique that I decided to use this fascinating musical film footage for a separate documentary dedicated entirely to these rehearsal sessions and the concert itself, forming a diptych, you could say, with the filmed portrait.

As a classical music lover and amateur pianist, I had always been rather critical of the usual music films one sees on television. I agreed with Klemperer’s conception of producing opera: the stage direction should always be in the service of the music. For me this applied also to the filming of musical performances. Too many close-ups of the musicians and sophisticated cinematic effects hamper one’s ability to stay focussed on the music. I have always preferred the approach adopted by the film-makers Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, as in their Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach (1968). When filming a harpsichord recital by Gustav Leonhardt, in the role of J.S. Bach, they kept the camera static, as if giving it its own seat in the hall like an individual concertgoer.

Rather than conveying musical impressions about Klemperer conducting, I was soon convinced that with the unique opportunity I had been given I should try to create a historical musical document that would go to the core of Klemperer’s art of conducting. This is the reason why, during all three rehearsals, I concentrated on the first movement of Brahms’s Third Symphony, instructing my cameraman to focus on those passages where Klemperer would interrupt the orchestra’s playing and then rehearse them through those passages. As is so often the case, while filming we had to overcome a number of unexpected setbacks. My producer, who had obtained funding from television, insisted we use colour film, which at the time, unlike black & white, wasn’t yet very light sensitive. Moreover, Klemperer had agreed for us to film the rehearsals, but with the condition that there were to be no extra light spots on the orchestra and that there would be no camera within the space of the orchestra – Klemperer did not want anything to interfere with his rehearsals.

Thus on top of the hall’s weak lighting, we had to position ourselves outside the range of the orchestra, which meant using long zoom lenses for close-ups of Klemperer. For the concert, I wasn’t even allowed to bring a camera into the Royal Festival Hall itself: I filmed everything through a small window in one of the side boxes. During the performance I told my cameraman to constantly stay focussed on Klemperer, either in close-up or to fan zoom out a bit and capture him together with the orchestra – after all, the film would be about him as a conductor! Because at the time a 16-mm film magazine could not film more than ten minutes in a row, we had installed a second camera with remote control in a small space high up against the ceiling to serve as substitute whenever the film magazine of the first camera had to be exchanged. Amazingly enough, this rather primitive way of working perfectly suited my vision of filming concerts as if from the static position of one individual listener.

Taken together, these were conditions most professional cameramen would have refused to work under. Fortunately, as it turned out we could use most of the material we had filmed this way. What’s more, the grainy, almost Rembrandt-like texture it has acquired over the years now creates a welcome atmospheric contrast with the super-sharp and somewhat cool digital images we have become used to today. In 1974, when I first edited the rehearsal material for what has now become Klemperer The Last Concert (I called that early attempt Otto Klemperer in Rehearsal and Concert), I could count on the collaboration of Otto Freudenthal, who for years had been Klemperer’s assistant and who had already given me much helpful advice with the biographical film. While editing the rehearsal excerpts of the first movement of Brahms’s Third Symphony I realised again that I was following the right approach: they showed clearly how, by rehearsing certain key passages, Klemperer succeeded unambiguously in conveying to the orchestra his own conception of the symphony, despite his highly advanced age and his increasingly frail health.

For example, we see how he arrives at the precision he wanted from the woodwinds when playing short notes, how often he insists the orchestra give him a real pianissimo, thereby reinforcing the contrast with forte passages and how he demands from the first violins they play more espressivo to intensify the musical line. Typical also is a passage Klemperer wanted to be played with ‘half the strings’, which is not written in the score, but which allowed him to obtain a truly pianissimo violin sound. When two years ago I had the chance of bringing my Klemperer films back to life again, the real challenge proved to be how to turn the rehearsal and concert footage from 1971 into a film I could believe in. As I talked to close friends and consulted colleagues, it became clear that with the original film material I actually had in my possession a musical document of unique historical value: How to bring out its significance for today’s viewers? After a lapse of forty years, I renewed contact with Otto Freudenthal, who in the meantime had built up a reputation for himself as a composer and could look back on an international career as concert pianist.

I also received the generous support of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London, who agreed to participate in the project with new film sessions by their Digital Team. What has emerged from the creative interplay thus set in motion is a new film that successfully preserves the essence of the old one as unique musical document but finally gives that document its proper meaningful dimension. In the summer of 2015, working closely together again with Otto Freudenthal and now also with the Philharmonia’s Digital Team, I was able to film – at the Royal Academy of Music in London – the original score of Brahms’s Third Symphony that Klemperer had used for the rehearsals and the concert, and that still carried his personal markings in pencil. During the editing process, together with Freudenthal, I incorporated these passages into the picture to coincide with the relevant rehearsal sections so as, again, to illuminate the way Klemperer worked. Moreover, whether one can read music or not, I think it’s vitally important to be aware of the fact that a musical composition first of all means a written score, that is, notes that a composer has put down on paper and which musicians then have to interpret. Freudenthal told me then how, as Klemperer’s assistant, he would transfer his markings from the conductor’s score to the individual orchestral parts that the musicians found in front of them at the first rehearsal. He also had to collect these parts again at the end of the concert and deliver them back to Klemperer at his Hyde Park hotel suite.

I understand that many famous conductors, from Gustav Mahler to Lorin Maazel, followed the same practice. Again, this shows – what concert audiences are seldom aware of – that successful concerts depend for a good deal on meticulous preparation. In helping me create a bridge between today and back when I first made the film, I benefited from another unique circumstance: by now the original film material was more than forty years old. For Klemperer The Last Concert I could thus eloquently clarify the distance and difference between then and now by simply juxtaposing the original material with the series of new digitally filmed interviews I had done in London in the summer of 2015. Here the current managing director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, David Whelton, traces the main outlines of Klemperer’s turbulent career and recounts the eventful twenty year long history of the conductor’s intensive collaboration with the Phiharmonia, again highlighting Klemperer’s significance for a public unfamiliar with his name.

The Philharmonia’s second cellist, Karen Stephenson, watches the 1974 footage and then makes some moving and surprising comments as she plays a passage from the cello part of Brahms’s Third Symphony she found in the Philharmonia’s library with indications for a “retouche” in the fourth movement, which is exactly what we see Klemperer ask for during the filmed rehearsals. Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor laureate of the Philharmonia, looks back at the year 1969 when, as a young pianist, he played the Second Piano Concerto by Brahms under the then already elderly Klemperer in the Royal Festival Hall. And the musicologist Antony Beaumont, who recently produced a scholarly edition of a large selection of Klemperer’s letters in German, recounts how, as a young “telephone violinist”, he found himself playing under Klemperer for the only time in his life when he was asked to jump in for an indisposed member of the orchestra for both the dress rehearsal and what became Klemperer’s “Last Concert”. Beaumont arrives at a striking analysis of what made Klemperer’s art of conducting so unique. Regretfully, Otto Freudenthal, whose intense collaboration proved so essential for both the old and the new version, died unexpectedly in November 2015. I want to pay homage to him by quoting what he told me when we had finished working together on the editing of the score images in August of last year in Amsterdam: “Klemperer The Last Concert is his Musical Testament.”

Philo Bregstein, August 2016

Klemperer and the New/Philharmonia:“This orchestra is all my joy.” “Ladies and gentlemen, at Dr. Klemperer’s request the New Philharmonia Orchestra will be wearing informal dress for all the concerts which he will be conducting this season.” That was the announcement read out to the audience in the Royal Festival Hall on 26 September 1971 as they were waiting for the concert to start.

Clearly, there wasn’t the slightest hint that this would be Klemperer’s “last concert” – least of all at the BBC, who were expected to broadcast the event but failed to show up. At the final rehearsal Clement Relf, the orchestra’s librarian, had transmitted to the orchestra Klemperer’s idea of “informal” dress: “Short black for the ladies, dark suits for the men.” He let that follow immediately by: “Now can we see if we have an orchestra together that I can get the Old Man?!” For the way he had stood up to him once Relf had earned Klemperer’s respect, even friendship. That there was no thought in Klemperer’s own mind about any “farewell” from the concert platform may be clear from two of the works he planned to include in the 1971–1972 season, Mendelssohn’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht and his first-ever Mahler’s Eighth Symphony: “Unsinn, Wahnsinn!” Lotte had interjected (“Nonsense, madness”). Bruckner’s Seventh was scheduled instead for January 1972. He then told EMI he wanted to record the Verdi Requiem, Sibelius’s Fourth and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (the work he had launched his career with in 1906).

In the end, they settled for Mozart’s Die Entfrung aus dem Serail, Bach’s St. John Passion and, tellingly, three works he had recorded with them at the very onset of their collaboration: Brahms’s St. Antony Variations, Mozart’s Serenata Notturna and Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge. With hindsight, one could perhaps say there were signs that all was not well. Klemperer was a lot frailer than he had looked in May earlier that year when they had done Mahler’s Second Symphony, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Mahler’s death, and his eyesight was deteriorating. Lotte Klemperer in a letter to Paul Dessau two weeks earlier: “His eyes have become worse – studying, reading, all [have become] more difficult. At this moment we have four different and new pairs of glasses.” In the end, Klemperer had to cancel the Bruckner performance for health reasons. Soon after he announced he would no longer conduct in public. Peter Beavan: “It felt as if we were taking our leave of the last of the giants… and not only in the musical sense for even after all his various physical disasters he still towered above his fellow men, a gaunt Lear.” As Mike Ashman relates in the illuminating notes he wrote for the first publication of this concert on CD by Testament (SBT2 1425, 2008): “Talk to any number of players in the Philharmonia/New Philharmonia who worked with Klemperer and you will encounter a rich vein of affection for a musician who, when they came in for their morning rehearsal, they found was ‘already there.’ Comments like ‘I worshipped him – he was a very great man’, ‘he had a great intellect, and a sense of humour, he was a great supporter of individuals’ (he had backed up a respected senior player in a dispute with the orchestra’s management), are typical.”

This then might well be a fruitful place to start when trying to pinpoint what made the relationship between this orchestra and this conductor so unique and, for Klemperer himself, so different from that with the other great European orchestras he conducted after the war: The mutual understanding and the sense of trust and affection that existed between Klemperer and the orchestra, and which over the years unfolded into a way of making music that left “performing” far behind. It was to create one of the richest episodes in British, if not European musical life. Peter Beavan again: “Underlying it all was a foundation of rocklike rhythm and spiritual awareness that, for me at least, lifted a work such as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis into a realm far beyond earthly music making.” Gareth Morris, principal flutist with the Philharmonia Orchestra from 1948 until 1972, recounting his first concert under Klemperer in 1949: “I felt at once I was in the presence of somebody supremely out of the ordinary who was lost in the music. So, when before the concert I was summoned to his room, I was full of nervous fear that I had not pleased him. He was standing with a score: ‘This note must be very loud. Goodbye, we shall meet at the concert.’ We shook hands and I was his slave.”

In Long Journey we hear him add: “But I must say, at the rehearsal, the first time I saw him, he appeared a terrifying and very strange figure. His tie half undone, because he couldn’t do it with his hands, and he appeared odd. But of course: so sure of the music!” As we can witness in Long Journey and Last Concert, Klemperer’s physical movements prior to his brain tumour operation in 1939 had been forceful and direct, instilling in his players an overriding sense of clarity and purpose. His “odd” appearance after that was marked by the partial paralysis on the left side of his face and of his right arm the operation had left him with. The hip fracture in 1951 and the insertion of a permanent metal pin meant that he would now conduct mainly sitting down. When, in September 1958, he suffered 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns over 15 per cent of his body, disabling him from conducting for a whole year, it put a further strain on his physical abilities. And yet, in the years that followed he created with the Philharmonia/New Philharmonia Orchestra performances of tremendous expressive power and structural command, reaching again a new level of interpretative insight into the “signification of the form of music” (Pierre Boulez). “He let you play your instrument and produce sounds: he gave you time to play,” violinist Gillian Eastwood told Mike Ashman.

After a rehearsal of Strauss’s notoriously difficult Don Juan, she and her desk partner had felt: “That was easy. I could play every note.” Even in older age, “whenever Klemperer got onto the rostrum and his hands got up, the music came to life.” The technical shortcomings, remembered another player, “were purely physical. We used to come in together even in the most tricky spots.” Peter Beavan: “When conducting he used little movement; rather, he presided over the proceedings. He had a little downward, movement with his right hand to bring in solo instruments, but in general he let the music flow. Even without much apparent direction, however, there was an immense feeling of inevitability about any of his tempi; yet, somehow there was always time to turn corners.” Another element that may well have served to cement the bond between them and may help explain its lasting strength was Klemperer’s mordant wit.

As Nicolai Gedda sensed, Klemperer’s sardonic sense of humour sprang from a deep sense of irony, and informed his entire character and personality. While Bregstein’s Long Journey goes a long way in showing us why this should be so, what seems less evident is why it should have struck a far deeper chord with an orchestra of largely British players than with their counterparts on the Continent. The fact remains that the Philharmonia quickly took to Klemperer’s style of working and grew to love him for it. In his small but incomparable collection of Klempererisms Peter Beavan – cellist with the Philharmonia already at the time of Klemperer’s first recordings for EMI – has left us a record of “interacting voices” between the Maestro and his orchestra that illustrates this relationship better than anything else: During a recording of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony one of the cellos came in a bar early. Principal cellist Raymond Clark said nothing, but when it happened a second time, he rose in wrath and turning round to the section, delivered a tirade: “Count your bars, always count your bars – never rely on the person next to you, count for yourself, don’t leave it to anyone else! Here, I’ve been counting for 40 years now…” At which point Klemperer leaned down with a sardonic leer and asked: “And how far have you got, Mr. Clark?”

In the same symphony, after a particularly rugged entry, Clark asked: “Dr. Klemperer, will you give us a very clear beat at this point and we will get it right for the first time in musical history.” Another leer, and back came: “In British musical history!” In rehearsals, individual solo passages would often be followed by colleagues shuffling their feet in approval, not always merited, only to be met with a growl from the conductor’s desk: “Success is easy in this orchestra!” During their now legendary recording of Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, one of the soloists was not completely satisfied with his own performance and called out to one of Klemperer’s entourage: “Please, may I sing it again?” This was conveyed to the Maestro, who growled: “Why? It might get worse.” To which the singer replied: “Ah, but it might get better.” Only to be crushed by: “We can’t wait that long!” Clem Relf formed no exception. Klemperer was always very conscious about his string parts being bowed and marked with his favourite “Come out” in red under salient passages, and Clem always helped him. As he told Beavan, one morning early in the week preceding a concert Clem was greeted with: “Mr. Relf, you will help me mark the parts for the next concert?” “Of course, Dr. Klemperer; when would you like?” “Saturday afternoon, Mr. Relf.” Clem’s face fell, and Klemperer asked: “What is the matter, Mr. Relf – you do not like Saturday afternoon?” “Well, Dr. Klemperer, I usually go to a football match on Saturday afternoon.” This was too much for Klemperer and he just gave a derisive snort.

However, Friday came and as Clem was leaving the Hall Dr. Klemperer called out: “Mr. Relf, you need not come tomorrow afternoon; I have marked the parts myself.” “Oh, thank you, Dr. Klemperer.” But as he reached the exit, a stentorian shout followed him: “And I hope they lose!” When asked by John Freeman in his 1960 BBC interview whether he enjoyed conducting in London with the Philharmonia, Klemperer, then 75 years old, immediately responded: “Oh yes, very much! The orchestra is… all my joy!” Friedman: “And they are very good.” Klemperer: “Very good!” Then adds, clearly relishing the fact of what he is going to say: “And they are very good to me!” A whole decade of glorious performances was yet to follow, of which the many recordings that we have – studio as well as “live” – form an enduring testimony. It was to culminate in the flowering of what one rightly may call Klemperer’s “late style”. Klemperer’s “Late Style” Otto Klemperer was a conductor of extremes. His music reflected his bipolar personality: in Budapest (1948) he forced an impossibly fast tempo on his Don Giovanni for his champagne aria, in Sydney (1950) he conducted the fastest, in London (1971) the slowest Mahler Second Symphony of all time. Then, in his later recordings, starting around 1967, everything becomes quieter.

More than ever before, Klemperer’s main pre-occupation remains musical structure, but now no longer with the harshness so typical of the 1950’s, instead a sometimes almost lyrical gentleness makes itself felt. Might one talk here of the wisdom of old age? This new element is especially traceable in live recordings. Everything flows, but never loses purpose. On the contrary: the musical structure reveals itself with ever greater clarity. When, in the 1920’s, Ernst Bloch spoke of an energetic “precise burning” (“Nirgends brennen wir genauer”, i.e., “nowhere do we burn more precisely”), by which he meant a synthesis between intellect and passionate emotion, in the late performances from his Indian Summer we detect rather a synthesis between crystal clear structure and lyrical serenity – which however has nothing to do with “softness”. What does keep coming through also here is the relentless nature of Klemperer’s creative will. When heard in this way, the sometimes extremely slow tempi are found to generate a particularly powerful tension. The music no longer sounds “slow”, but obtains greater transparency and becomes – one hesitates to say it – more “affectionate”, while underpinned as always by Klemperer’s scrupulously enforced discipline and his fixation with the smallest musical detail. Ample proof of this we find in the rehearsal excerpts Bregstein captured in his Last Concert fi lm. Of course, in live recordings not everything always comes out perfect. Least of all with Klemperer. It didn’t bother him much when a horn happened to squeak or there was a temporary loss in ensemble. This could lead to downright awkward situations, as happened for example in 1968 during the concert performance of The Flying Dutchman: Peter Heyworth reports that “at moments the orchestral ensemble was precarious, and in at least one passage disaster was only narrowly averted.” He then immediately adds: “But such imperfections were of little account” before describing a performance of overwhelming power. In the present recording of his final concert we encounter similar critical moments, in particular at the beginning of the King Stephen Overture and the Brahms symphony.

No wonder, with a conductor who is here 86 years old and so obviously hampered by the many medical handicaps inflicted upon him through the years that, when seeing him for the very first time on fi lm, one inevitably needs a few moments to adjust. In spite of all that, even in these later years when, as Peter Beavan tells us, “during rehearsals we would sometimes wonder how the performance could possibly hold together, Klemperer would summon up incredible reserves of concentration and at the concert there would be once again the familiar feeling of power and overall command.” Antony Beaumont, who had joined the second violins for the concert as substitute player, gives a striking description towards the end of Last Concert (54:15): There was something – as I say, I can’t put it into words either – but there was something I never experienced with any other conductor at any other time, something that was telling me, and the whole orchestra, what he wanted. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was his way of saying: ‘This is what the music wants’. As I say, he was working as a kind of vessel, an intermediary between whatever it is that makes this music what it is, putting his actual willpower in some kind of invisible energy.

When listening to the performance on the present audio recording, one should in no way have in mind the firebrand that Klemperer was in the 1950s or even think of his years at the Berlin Kroll Opera, in Los Angeles or Budapest. As long as one remains stuck on “early” Klemperer, one will fail to recognise what emerges as new in his “late” interpretations. Neither should one refer to his late studio recordings, which tend to lack the vibrancy that marks the live concert recordings, something one cannot help noticing with especially the slow tempi, which the studio seemed to rob of momentum. As both the Long Journey and the Last Concert films illustrate, Klemperer clearly felt unhappy in the recording studio and seems to almost resent it when producers interrupt him. When at one point someone explained to him the technical advantages of tape splicing, he turned to his daughter Lotte and said, horrified: “Lotte, so ein Schwindel!” Fortunately, many live recordings of Klemperer concerts have survived from all periods of his life: Starting with a few snippets from a Berlin radio concert (1932), to Los Angeles (1934), via the main stations of his career during the 1940’s and 1950’s (Budapest, Amsterdam, Cologne), till the many recordings that date from the 1960s, and, from 1964 onwards, those with the New Philharmonia, while numerous further guest appearances with prominent orchestras in Europe and the USA, or even less famous ones, like the Jerusalem Radio Orchestra in Israel, have also survived (for full details, see In all of these one hears the resounding effect of how “late” Klemperer gives his vibrant creative aura free rein.

In his introducture notes to the Last Concert Philo Bregstein vividly describes how far from optimal the conditions were for his film team had to work with. Similarly unfavourable were the conditions for the audio recording he made during the concert. He was allowed to film only the first movement of the Brahms symphony. Fortunately, he kept his tape recorder running from beginning till end! Apparently, there was no up-to-date tape deck on hand – the recording was done in mono. It has been impossible to locate the master tape, which Bregstein transferred at the time to the Klemperer Archive in the Library of Congress. For the production of the present audio recording we worked with copies of the master tapes that ran at 19 cm/s and had been recorded on one track only. The tapes have been re-mastered using an AEG M-15 tape machine via a Benchmark A/D converter (adc1) and an interface by RME (Fireface 400) in high resolution WAV data (96 kHz/24 bit).

Dick Bruggeman & Werner Unger




Rehearsal and Concert, London, 1971:
Johannes Brahms –
Symphony No. 3

Rehearsal, Vienna, 1960:
Ludwig van Beethoven –
Egmont Overture

Berlin, 1931:
Kurt Weill –
Kleine Dreigroschenmusik

Thanks for advice to:

Special thanks for their financial support:

Produced by: MIRA MENDEL and RENE MENDEL, Interakt, Amsterdam 

Archive material:
A film by PHILO BREGSTEIN 1974

A film by PHILO BREGSTEIN, 1973–1984

The filmed interviews were realised in London

Interviews by Jessie Rodger with:
VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY – Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, London
KAREN STEPHENSON – No. 2 Cello of the Philharmonia Orchestra, London
DAVID WHELTON – Managing Director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, London

Interview by Philo Bregstein with:
ANTONY BEAUMONT – Editor of the letters of Otto Klemperer

The score of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 was filmed and edited with the help of OTTO FREUDENTHAL, personal and musical assistant to Otto Klemperer from 1961 until 1971 Excerpts taken from the film OTTO KLEMPERER IN REHEARSAL AND CONCERT 1971 were edited in 1974 by MICHÈLE MULLER, together with PHILO BREGSTEIN and OTTO FREUDENTHAL.

The commentary for the film was written and spoken by OTTO FREUDENTHAL.

Klemperer’s personal copy of the score of Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 has generously been made available by the ROYAL ACADEMY OF MUSIC, London.

VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY, conducting a rehearsal with the Philharmonia Orchestra of Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5, was filmed by the DIGITAL TEAM OF THE PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA, London.

Thanks to the PURCELL SCHOOL FOR YOUNG MUSICIANS, Bushey, for the opportunity to film the interview with Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Thanks to WERNER UNGER / archiphon, for the remastered soundtracks of: Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2

Vladimir Ashkenazy with the New Philharmonia Orchestra Otto Klemperer, conductor

Royal Festival Hall, London, 1969

Kurt Weill: Kleine Dreigroschenmusik

Staatskapelle Berlin

Otto Klemperer, conductor 1930

Photographs of the DEACONESS HOSPITAL BOSTON and an article about neurosurgery by Dr. Gilbert Horrax were kindly made available by THE RUTH AND DAVID FREIMAN ARCHIVES at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, U.S.A.


In so far the use of archive material in this film requires the explicit approval of rightholders of that material, we have – in our best efforts and as far as we were able to verify – contacted all rightholders and acquired necessary permission for the use of archive materials. If, however, we have failed to locate a rights holder, we kindly invite him or her to contact Interakt via

Nothing from this film may be copied or used. All rights reserved © 2016 Interakt Sales Promotion:

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Interview with Pierre Boulez, filmed at his home in Baden-Baden, 1972

Interview with Ernst Bloch, filmed at his home in Tübingen, 1972

Excerpts from rehearsals for the concert on 26 September 1971: First rehearsal Royal Festival Hall, 24 September 1971:

Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 4, soloist Daniel Adni

Dress rehearsal Royal Festival Hall, 25 September 1971:

Ludwig van Beethoven – King Stephen Overture & Piano Concerto No. 4, soloist Daniel Adni

Complete concert recording from the Royal Festival Hall, London, September 26, 1971


König Stephan Ouvertüre (King Stephen Overture), op. 117

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, op. 58

Allegro moderato – Cadenza – Allegro moderato
Andante con moto
Rondo (Vivace) – Cadenza – Tempo I

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F major, op. 90
Allegro con brio – Un poco sostenuto – Tempo I
Poco allegretto
Allegro – Un poco sostenuto
Mono recording, digitally remastered.


PHILO BREGSTEIN for their permission to include this performance.


Otto Klemperer, his life and times

About Otto Klemperer


Otto Klemperer’s enduring reputation as one of the most important musicians of the 20th century is principally due to his prodigious work as a conductor. Klemperer was approaching the age of 70 when the British company EMI signed him up as a recording artist in 1952, and over a period of almost 20 years he went on to make numerous recordings with the label. Throughout his life, Klemperer’s artistry as an interpreter was deeply affected by bouts of mental illness. Even as a young man in his early 20s, he was beset by severe depression during his first engagement in Prague. When, after several months, Klemperer had finally overcome his despondency, his mood changed into one of exaggerated self-certitude. It was at this time that Klemperer’s bipolar disorder first became evident, and he was to suffer shifts between phases of depression and mania for the rest of his life. Due to his illness, it is difficult to establish a common denominator in the sheer range of his expressive performances, for while he was able to inspire his musicians to passionate heights, he was also known to emanate a mood of leaden melancholy from the podium. This is exemplified by his legendary recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which was made in 1960/61. On first hearing of the introductory chorus one is struck by the basic tempo, which seems apathetically slow and lethargic. But it is precisely here that one of Klemperer’s great talents as an interpreter is revealed: His ability to create waves of musical climaxes eclipses that of almost any other conductor. Whereas with other great contemporaries the musical flow often tended to peter out at very slow tempi, Klemperer created a monumental, tragic lament of unrelenting intensity. It is an ironic twist of fate that while Klemperer’s St. Matthew Passion was considered a highly modern interpretation of Bach during the Weimar Republic, it sounds somewhat dated nowadays. Nonetheless, Klemperer was one of the first conductors to sweep away the patina that had settled on Baroque music due to 19th century performance practice. Putting aside the later St. Matthew Passion, Klemperer is still considered a pioneer of historical performance practice. As Klemperer’s star began to rise in the wake of his regular guest performances in Berlin, it was primarily due to his interpretations of Bach that he established himself as a modern antithesis to the conservative Wilhelm Furtwängler. Klemperer reduced the size of the orchestra to chamber music proportions, thus revealing the polyphonic interplay between the individual voices. Moreover, when performing Bach he generally refrained from using tempo fluctuations, thus liberating his music from the sugary romanticism popular at the time. But, it was not only the music of Bach that Klemperer performed with unpretentious clarity; he also applied this approach to works of the classical and romantic genres. His natural, authentic interpretations helped seal his reputation as an ideal representative of the new era after the First World War. This also applied to his use of tempi at the time, which were described by critics as taut, diabolical and brisk. Klemperer’s performances imparted a sense that plush sofas, thick carpets and dark, heavy furniture had not only been banished from the modern living room but from music too. Instead we get clear lines and lucid precision. Among his colleagues, he was considered the leading exponent of the “New Objectivity” movement. However, such a characterization was not entirely accurate: Klemperer would not have ascended to such heights as an internationally renowned conductor, had his sole achievement been his streamlined approach to musical interpretation. He himself never defined his style of conducting ex negativo. It was not his declared goal to avoid pathos in his interpretations, it was rather a consequence of his musical ethos. This approach can be summed up as follows: Make music with inner sentiment, not with external sentimentality. Klemperer did not aim for mere effect in his interpretations, but rather formed the music from its very substance, or to put it more precisely, allowed it to unfold – remaining faithful to the intent and notation of the score. Yet at the same time, he certainly never wanted music to be played in an “objective” manner. This is one of the accusations made by critics who had either not listened closely enough, or who were unable to distinguish sentimentality from genuine feelings – and thus wrongly judged Klemperer’s music to be lacking in sensuality due to its lack of overt emotionality. In fact, almost all of Klemperer’s recordings are characterized by a high degree of inner tension. Still, due to the direct, natural authenticity of his approach to making music, there was always a risk that his performances – especially during his phases of depression – could seem listless, uninspired, ponderous, perhaps even boring. The internalized passion of Klemperer’s interpretation style developed gradually over time. During his early years, Klemperer performed with unbridled passion and fire, employing striking, dramatic gestures: he would often clench his fists and stamp his feet with emotion. However, over the years the focus of his interpretations shifted to the inner structure of the composition itself. This enabled him, while maintaining a very direct, clear and unadulterated sound, to make audible the interconnections between the leading and secondary voices, as well as the contrapuntal fabric of the middle voices. This musical approach is exemplified in the Merry Waltz, the most popular piece composed by Klemperer himself. In this piece he managed to not only create a catchy theme, but to also provide this theme with a distinct counterpart, forming an inseparable unity. It was this combination of transparency, intensity and audibility of the individual voices that resulted in Klemperer’s finest interpretations, in particular his recordings of Beethoven and Bruckner, though also those of Mozart and Mahler. These recordings represent musical milestones of the final two decades of Klemperer’s life, immortalizing one of the 20th century’s finest conductors.

Otto Hagedorn
Translated by: Alex Zuckrow

A great many music lovers worldwide, born since the 1970s, feel passionate about the art of Otto Klemperer. Having grown up with his recordings and the unparalleled films of Philo Bregstein, these new generations never had the unforgettable experience of seeing the illustrious maestro on the rostrum. The youngest of these fervent aficionados were still girls and boys when Klemperer died in Zurich on 3rd July 1973. They will never witness Gustav Mahler’s disciple in the flesh, the man who conducted his final concert – at the head of the New Philharmonia Orchestra – in London in 1971. He is the inspiration for the two documentaries from the current Philo Bregstein collection. These music lovers born during the closing decades of the 20th century belong to the age of cultural globalisation. They cherish the seventy.eight Klemperer albums released by EMI since 2013. Depending on when they were born, they are clearly less influenced than their parents and grandparents were by the Germanic tradition represented by Herbert von Karajan, the American school of thought of Leopold Stokowski and Leonard Bernstein, the Russian expressiveness of Yevgeny Mravinsky and Gennady Rozhdestvensky, the Czech refinement of Václav Neumann or the French style incarnated by Pierre Monteux, Charles Munch and Paul Paray. We also know that, during the years when a fallen democratic Europe was occupied by Nazi Germany, there were standard-bearers for Germanic art other than Wilhelm Furtwängler or Hans Knappertsbusch, who came to conduct for the pleasure of Joseph Goebbels during his visits to subjugated countries. Some of us music lovers are aware of the difficult existence of intellectuals and musicians then exiled across the Atlantic such as Arturo Toscanini, Erich Kleiber or Bruno Walter. Another famous figure among the victims of Hitler’s regime was Otto Klemperer. From 1933 onwards, he shared the same fate as other refugees such as Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler or Bertolt Brecht. The “Moses of New Music”, Arnold Schoenberg, also found himself among them. Once on American soil, he even imparted composition lessons to Otto Klemperer. Schoenberg aside, the leading personality among these fugitives was Thomas Mann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929 and a most discerning music aficionado. Following the outbreak of the Second World War, these uprooted artists were joined by, most notably, Darius Milhaud, Claude Lévi-Strauss and the celebrated actor Jean Gabin, having fled Pétain’s France, the yellow star, and collaboration out of concerns for his freedom and a moral obligation. In 1943, Gabin joined the troops who would go on to liberate his homeland from Fascist cruelty. Otto Klemperer knew, both as a Jew and a believer in democracy, what he owed to the true France and to its intellectual universalism. It had, in 1791, been the first country to emancipate its co-religionists. Like their fellow Germans, they saw themselves both as Israelites and as citizens of the countries into which they were born. A man of the Left, the authoritarian Otto had been influenced, just like his cousin, linguist and novelist Victor Klemperer – author of a thesis devoted to Montesquieu – by the fraternal values of the 1789 Revolution. He also venerated them as a composer. Written in 1960, Klemperer’s Symphony No.1 contains variations on the theme of La Marseillaise. In 1933, its author had completed, during Hitler’s rise to power, a piece for mixed choir and orchestra entitled J’accuse in reference to the famous text with which Émile Zola came to the defence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Though Klemperer’s repertoire as a conductor barely contained any French music – aside from Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Bizet’s Carmen, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and Darius Milhaud’s Le pauvre matelot – he had nonetheless orchestrated harpsichord pieces penned by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The personal touches he breathed into the symphonic music of César Franck were legendary. This was also the case when he conducted Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz, the spiritual successor of the French Revolution and disciple of a then ground-breaking language whose visionary merit was studied by Pierre Boulez. From that point onward, France became a source of bitterness for Klemperer. He lacked the necessary affinity with Debussy and Ravel to conduct their dazzling Impressionist scores on a regular basis. Yet Klemperer’s Francophilia waned in favour of his status as a major interpreter of Beethoven. Thanks to François-Antoine Habeneck, the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris had been – by the end of the 1830s – the first European orchestra to perform a complete cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies. The young Richard Wagner was deeply influenced by this. Almost a century-and-a-half later, two French nationals would also give Klemperer, the emeritus interpreter of Gustav Mahler, the honour he is due. The first is Henry-Louis de la Grange, a major biographer of the author of Das Lied von der Erde, who spent the Second World War in the United States and often visited Alma Mahler there. The second is Pierre Boulez, who conducted Mahler at the head of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the early 1970s, both in London as well as during continental tours. Though the venerable maestro has since reached the end of his life, the Mahlerian passing-of-the-torch seems to have been ensured. His legacy rests in the hands of a cosmopolitan, irony-laden Frenchman who was as reviled among hostile avant-garde circles as Klemperer had once been. As we shall soon see, the two men shared common characteristics. They saw music as a world of structures whose nature and synthesis are foreign to facile conventions. In view of his premature move to Germany in 1955, Boulez became the target of anti-German attacks originating from France. By that time, the Second World War had been over for a dozen years. The fledging German Federal Republic had not yet begun to formulate, with the help of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, the delicate dialogue which would successfully end – in 1963 – with the signing of the Élysée Treaty. Some notable Parisians, all born roughly between 1870 and 1910, lashed out at Boulez, just as they had lashed out at Hermann Scherchen because he took too great an interest – in their own opinion – in where the musical past met with the musical present. Anti-Semitic undertones were added to the slander against Boulez, even though he was not Jewish. His critics saw values – values that he shared with Klemperer – which they constantly rallied against. Born into the conservative Catholic bourgeoisie, they had been shaped by an anti-Judaism of which Vincent d’Indy’s Cours de composition musicale makes for a lamentable example. For his part, Florent Schmitt would publically insult Kurt Weill in Paris in 1933 during a concert at the Salle Pleyel. The author of La Tragédie de Salomé shouted out: “May Hitler take Weill and all the German Jews who are poisoning French musical life!” What would have happened if Otto Klemperer had then gone on to conduct, in Paris, scores by Schoenberg or Mahler? An entire book could be written on Klemperer’s relationship with Boulez. A dialogue between the composer of Le marteau sans maître and Philo Bregstein, recorded in 1972, shows the extent to which the founder of the Ensemble InterContemporain was fascinated by his illustrious elder. Klemperer would return the favour. He greatly enjoyed Sonatine for Flute and Piano written by Boulez in 1946. Klemperer felt that the Frenchman – four decades his junior – embodied the future of musical creation. Both of them had been composers, conductors, thinkers and directors of public institutions. This series of common denominators, this recurring thread, appeared in the Philo Bregstein documentary Otto Klemperer’s Long Journey through his Times. In 1952, in Montreal, Boulez attended a Klemperer concert for the first time. He admitted that he was struck by “the kind of hypnotism which exudes from his severe immobility”. At that time, as Stefan Zweig would say, Otto Klemperer was the main surviving giant of the world of yesterday, even though Wilhelm Furtwängler and Bruno Walter were still active. But Klemperer distinguished himself from them. His art had nothing in common with Furtwängler’s pathos or Walter’s sentimentalism. He sought – like Boulez – to exhibit sonic constructs. In 1964, Boulez conducted for the first time in London. To his great astonishment, Klemperer phoned him to ask if he could take part in rehearsals. Over the following years, the octogenarian would travel to Basel to observe conducting classes imparted by Boulez. The Frenchman would conduct with his bare hands, without the aid of a baton. The old lion was a giant, measuring 1m90 in height. One contemporary formulated the judicious hypothesis that Klemperer, following the brain tumour he fell victim to, probably experienced difficulties in conducting contemporary scores. This situation was linked to the fact that, following his operation in the United States in 1939, his right arm remained paralysed for a long while. Since conducting new music requires a very special technique, Klemperer needed to take cues from Boulez, which explained his presence in Basel. The two men adored the theatre. They also read a lot. Klemperer delved into, among others, Ernst Bloch and Georg Simmel. His young colleague was fascinated by Michel Foucault and Jean Genet. Domiciled in Baden-Baden, where he has been buried since January 2016, Boulez was well informed on the political situation in Germany and of its division into fratricidal nations. The symbolism of Berlin did not escape him. Boulez knew the role that Klemperer, who was first reintegrated as a German national and who then became an Israeli citizen in 1970 out of solidarity with the Hebrew people, played in Berlin under the Weimar Republic. He underwent the extraordinary experience of conducting anti-culinary lyrical theatre – between 1927 and 1931 – at the head of the Kroll Opera. This adventure would inspire him when, at the start of the 1970s, Pierre Boulez envisioned conducting the Paris Opera with director Jean Vilar as part of a collegiate project. Almost two decades later, this same Boulez would still remember the Kroll Opera when he was offering guidance to the future Opéra Bastille in Paris. But the influence of his enemies would lead the French authorities to favour a conformist route. Fascinated by contemporary theatre, Boulez would work in Bayreuth and Frankfurt with Wieland Wagner, with Patrice Chéreau – three years after Klemperer’s death – for a production of Der Ring des Nibelungen which would go down in history, and with Christoph Schlingensief. Boulez debuted in Bayreuth in 1966. Klemperer was there for his first Parsifal. They had dinner together after one performance and they exchanged a number of ideas. Klemperer and Boulez’s theories on lyrical art would be a determining factor in the evolution of Gérard Mortier, who led both the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels and the Salzburg Festival. At the Kroll Opera, characters from Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman wore clothing from the 1920s. Schoenberg, Janácˇek and Stravinsky would be performed there, having been conducted by Klemperer since his years in Cologne. He maintained close personal ties with the Russian maestro. The world premiere of the concert version of Oedipus Rex had taken place, in the presence of Otto Klemperer, in Paris in 1927. He would soon oversee its direction in Berlin. Klemperer also honoured Hindemith, whose Nobilissima visione he recorded, as well as Bart. The latter was the soloist for one of his piano concertos, conducted by Klemperer himself. As such, Bart, Berg, who was little appreciated by Klemperer, Schoenberg, Janácˇek and Stravinsky would represent the stumbling blocks of Boulez’s future repertoire. A famous photo would show him plunged into deep discussion with the composer of The Rite of Spring. The exploitation of the Kroll Opera under the authority of Otto Klemperer had started with a memorable performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. One decade earlier, Klemperer had conducted this work at the Strasbourg Municipal Opera where he incurred the wrath of Hans Pfitzner, the then director of this establishment. Why? The young Kapellmeister had refused to cut the choral scores in the second act, a hymn to the Enlightenment and human rights, which were little appreciated by the German nationalism of Wilhelm II, his generals and his university professors. The people of Strasbourg today do not remember Klemperer’s gesture. They are ignorant of the fact that he had lived in their city between 1914 and 1917. No streets in modern-day Strasbourg bear the name “Otto Klemperer”. And it is even more astonishing that the memory of this legendary artist does not seem to concern the institution charged with the naming of public streets in Berlin. Though the Kroll Opera, demolished after 1945, found itself in an empty space facing the old Reichstag, a plaque featuring a photo of Otto Klemperer notably commemorates the years he spent at the head of this institution. But from now on, the films of Philo Bregstein shall carry, as well as his legendary recordings, the name and the incomparable art of Otto Klemperer across the entire world.

Dr. Philippe Olivier-Achard
Translation: Christopher Smith

Beaumont, Antony (ed.), ‘Verzeiht, ich kann nicht hohe Worte machen’. Briefe von Otto Klemperer 1906-1973. Munich: Richard Boorberg Verlag GmbH & Co., 2012.

Curjel, Hans, Experiment Krolloper 1927-1931. Ed. by Eigel Kruttge. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1975.

Heyworth, Peter, Otto Klemperer. His Life and Times, Vol. 1: 1885-1933. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, new ed. 1996.

Heyworth, Peter, Otto Klemperer. Dirigent der Republik, 1885-1933. German ed. of Heyworth, Otto Klemperer. His Life and Times, Vol. 1; transl. by Monika Plessner. Berlin: Siedler Verlag, 1988.

Heyworth, Peter, Otto Klemperer. His Life and Times, Vol. 2: 1933-1973. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Heyworth, Peter (ed.), Conversations with Klemperer. London: Victor Gollancz, 1973; revised ed.

London: Faber & Faber, 1985.

Heyworth, Peter (ed.), Gespräche mit Klemperer. Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1973 (German ed. of Heyworth (ed.), Conversations, 1973.

Klemperer, Lotte (ed.), Die Personalakten der Johanna Geisler. Frankfurt am Main:Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983.

Klemperer, Otto, Meine Erinnerungen an Gustav Mahler und andere autobiografische Skizzen.

Zurich: Atlantis Verlag, 1960.

Klemperer, Otto, Otto Klemperer Emlèken. Budapest: Zenemükiadó, 1963 (enlarged Hungarian ed. of Meine Erinnerungen …).

Klemperer, Otto, Minor Recollections. London: Dennis Dobson, 1964 (enlarged English ed. of

Meine Erinnerungen …).

Klemperer, Otto, Über Musik und Theater. Erinnerungen, Gespräche. Skizzen. Ed. by Stephan Stompor; East Berlin: Henschel Verlag, and Wilhelmshaven: Heinrichshofen, 1982 (enlarged ed. of Meine Erinnerungen…).

Klemperer, Otto, Écrits et entretiens. Ed. by Georges Liébert; Paris:Hachette/Pluriel,1985 (French ed. of Über Musik undTheater).

Klemperer, Otto, Klemperer on Music. Shavings from a Musician’s Workbench. Ed. by Martin Anderson; London: Toccata Press, 1986 (enlarged ed. of Minor Recollections).

Klemperer, Otto, Anwalt guter Musik. Texte aus dem Arbeitsalltag eines Musikers. Ed. by Stephan Stompors; Berlin: Henschel Verlag, 1993 (German ed. of Klemperer on Music).

Osborne, Charles & Kenneth Thomson, Klemperer Stories. Anecdotes, Sayings and Impression of Otto Klemperer; London: Robson Books, 1980.

Osborne, Charles & Kenneth Thomson, Klemperer: Sagen Sie doch einfach Otto. Anekdotisches.

Munich/Zurich: R. Piper & Co., 1981 (German ed. of Klemperer Stories).

Weissweiler, Eva, Otto Klemperer. Ein deutsch-jüdisches Künstlerleben. Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2010.

Compiled by Dick Bruggeman, 2015

Stichting Otto Klemperer Film Foundation

The Foundation intends to bring films from film maker Philo Bregstein about Otto Klemperer to the attention of many. Films explaining the fate of the German-Jewish conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973), one of the greatest conductors of all time.